Help find the truth about the death of Pfc. LaVena Johnson

Once upon a time lived a young woman from a St. Louis suburb. She was an honor roll student, she played the violin, she donated blood and volunteered for American Heart Association walks. She elected to put off college for a while and joined the Army once out of school. At Fort Campbell, KY, she was assigned as a weapons supply manager to the 129th Corps Support Battalion.

She was LaVena Johnson, private first class, and she died near Balad, Iraq, on July 19, 2005, just eight days shy of her twentieth birthday. She was the first woman soldier from Missouri to die while serving in Iraq or Afghanistan.

The tragedy of her story begins there.

After an investigation, the Army declared LaVenas death a suicide, a finding refuted by the soldiers family. In an article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Lavena’s father pointed to indications that his daughter had endured a physical struggle before she died – two loose front teeth, a busted lip that had to be reconstructed by the funeral home – suggesting that someone might have punched her in the mouth.

The military said that the matter was closed.

Little more on LaVenas death was said for many months until a recently televised report on KMOV in St. Louis disclosed troubling details not previously made public:

• Indications of physical abuse that went unremarked by the autopsy
• The absence of psychological indicators of suicidal thoughts; indeed, testimony that LaVena was happy and healthy prior to her death
• Indications, via residue tests, that LaVena may not even have handled the weapon that killed her
• A blood trail outside the tent where Lavenas body was found
• Indications that someone attempted to set LaVenas body on fire

And yet, the Army continues to resist calls by LaVena’s family and by local media to reopen its investigation.

We have seen with other military deaths that the Army has engaged in an insulting game of deny and delay when it comes to uncovering embarrassing facts. Only when public and official attention is brought to bear on the matter – as happened, eventually and with great effort, with the case of Army Ranger and former professional football player Cpl. Pat Tillman – do unpleasant truths come to light.

While it is possible to disagree generally over the war in Iraq, we are unified in our respect for the men and women who serve us in dangerous places, and in our concern for the families who give them up in our name. The very least we owe families of the fallen is an honest accounting of how their loved ones died.

The Armed Services Committees of the Senate and the House have funding authority and legislative oversight over the armed forces. The members of these committees can compel the Army to acknowledge the grief of the Johnson family and reopen its investigation of LaVena’s death. All that is needed is the political will. Help those legislators find that will by signing this petition.

The mother of Pat Tillman once put the matter in stark and honest terms:

This is how they treat a family of a high-profile individual, she said. How are they treating others?

In the case of Private First Class Johnson, we know the answer – but together we can make a better answer for LaVenas family, and for all the families of those in the military.
* * *

Help compel the Army to reopen the investigation of Pfc. LaVena Johnsons death.
[The petition site is here.]

This petition sponsored by Philip Barron, author of the blog Waveflux. Mr. Barron is not a representative of the Johnson family.